THE SUNDAY STORY The city’s big waste management idea was to open stinking landfills at remote sites. Whole villages are affected by these trash mountains.

When a few weeks ago, word got around that the municipal landfill in their neighbourhood was headed for closure, Saroja, 32, of Ramagondanahalli, was sceptical.

Life has been an ordeal for her family that lives barely two km away from Bangalore’s largest landfill at Mavallipura. Similar “closure orders” had remained on paper for years; and she didn’t believe it until one day the “smelly, monstrous” trucks stopped plying.

“We rejoiced because we thought that our voices had finally been heard, and the nightmare was over.” Yet, two weeks later, the stench persists, their lakes still reek of rotting garbage (overflowing from leachate ponds) and the rains have brought fresh woes in the form of stagnant water. The place is swarming with flies, and potential vector-borne diseases. Yet, Saroja hopes that “very soon” she can stop spending half her earnings on medical expenses for her two children. She also hopes that some day, she will be able to live with her windows open, which have for years been shut tight to keep the “smells, the disease and the garbage” out.

Residents of 12 villages around Bangalore's largest landfill believe that vector-borne diseases are responsible for seven deaths, and that many more suffer from skin disorders. The gram panchayat's demand for a basic health camp or evaluation to prove this claim has gone unheeded, says B. Srinivas, Shivakote gram panchayat member.

‘Justice’ came, after months of protest, in the form of a Karnataka State Pollution Control Board order that decreed a three-month closure of the treatment facility, run by Hyderabad-based infrastructure and waste management firm Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited. The KSPCB evaluation termed the treatment facility “wholly non-functional”, even as Ramky, in its statement, cited infrastructural constraints including the municipal body’s failure to release land for the facility.

No real solution

So where does all the excess garbage — Mavallipura by some estimates receives over 800 tonnes — go? The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike is now diverting these trucks to other plants in Mandur and Doddabalapur, which together ‘treat’ the over 4,000 tonnes of city garbage generated per day.

Chikmuniyappa, a farmer who lives near the Mandur landfill, does not know why the number of trucks coming in has nearly doubled in recent weeks. The dump, which he claims has already “ruined lives, reduced agricultural yield, affected cattle and made human life a living hell” is like a “rising monster”, he says. “Those who could afford it, or knew other skills, simply migrated. Who would want to live like this, near a rotting mound,” he asks. Farmers here protested last week, but Chikmuniyappa says police colluded with private truckers (outsourced to contractors by the BBMP) to provide “protection” from residents.

Civic authorities grumble about how it costs them extra to transport the garbage, they have been largely indifferent to residents complaints. Over the years, residents in villages dotting the city's periphery have protested and even filed PILs on this growing menace. Many villages have organised night patrols to check contractors unloading garbage in their fields, and similar clashes have even resulted in violence. 

In recent years, these stand-offs have been reported with a discomfiting frequency, forcing a rethink by authorities. The KSPCB, which granted permits to such plants, has shut down three facilities. Even the BBMP has increasingly been talking about segregation and waste treatment facilities for every ward. However, barring a few initiatives by NGOs on integrated waste management units, there is no roadmap on moving away from landfills.